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Wednesday, April 8, 1998 Published at 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK



World: Asia-Pacific

Land rights edge Australia towards 'race election'
image: [ Aboriginal groups are fighting for what they believe are their ancestral rights ]
Aboriginal groups are fighting for what they believe are their ancestral rights


Correspondent David Willis reports from Canberra for BBC News 24 (1'13")
The Australian parliament is voting again on Aboriginal land rights amid fresh warnings that the issue could lead to a new divisive general election fought on race issues.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer said the country was edging closer to an early election.


[ image: Mr Howard: election this year rather than next if bill is amended]
Mr Howard: election this year rather than next if bill is amended
His warning, backed by Prime Minister John Howard, came as the upper house, the Senate, refused to support key points of the government's Aboriginal land rights reform bill.

The Senate, which is controlled by opposition parties, is expected to reject the legislation in a final vote on Wednesday.


Senator Ross Lightfoot: "Aborigines are lowest" (0'8")
It has already voted down part of the government's bill, which limits Aboriginal land rights in a bid to end a row between Aborigines and farmers over government pastures leased to farmers.

Click here for background briefing on the history of the Aboriginal land dispute

The government says it is seeking to end the uncertainty facing farmers who feel threatened by Aboriginal claims and will call an election unless the bill is passed.

Mr Howard has said that unless the government acts, Aborigines will be able to claim 80% of all the land in Australia.


[ image: Aborigines claim they are already struggling to keep their heads above water]
Aborigines claim they are already struggling to keep their heads above water
But Aboriginal groups say they are exercising ancestral rights and the new laws will be nothing short of 'apartheid', creating friction between blacks and whites and the city and the bush.


Aborigine leader Noel Pearson hits back (0'6")
Aboriginal activist Peter Yu urged Mr Howard to strike a compromise with the Labour opposition and minor parties

"We would hope that he would have more intelligence in terms of now seeing over the last few days ... how poisonous the debate has become," he said.

Mr Howard can dissolve both houses of parliament and call an election any time if the Senate twice rejects a bill.

The Senate first voted against the land rights bill in December.
 





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  Relevant Stories

08 Apr 98 | Background
History of the Aboriginal land dispute

02 Apr 98 | World
Who owns Australia?

30 Nov 97 | World
TV appeal stirs Aborigine land row

 
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Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.


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